Coronavirus Shutdown: day 24

It’s incredible how quickly something becomes the new normal. Crossing the street to avoid people when you leave the house for a little exercise. An amount of handwashing that would previously have seen ludicrously over the top. Trying to work during normal days, with a six-year-old running around the housing wanting to do everything, or nothing that you suggest at all. We started a tradition today of clapping him at weekends for coping with it all.

The shutdown is scheduled to end in just over a week, but I don’t think anyone in their right minds thinks it will. In fact, we were meant to fly to Scotland in four days time for an extended Easter holiday in the Highlands, what would have been an absolutely unprecedented second trip in just over a month, an amount of travel that’s completely out of the norm for us. It seems alien now; the flights have already been cancelled for weeks.

The corona numbers are through the roof. Closing in on 1.5 million cases worldwide, with the US now with an astonishing one third of a million in its own right. Deaths are creeping towards 70,000. Ireland still seems to be under relative control, in that the numbers are rising at or below 10% a day, and our intensive care units aren’t overrun. Yet. But it is a weird, anxious time, not helped by the riddles of silly conspiracy theories and misinformation that seem to be a feature of life now.

Anxiety, in fact, has really crept into it for me. It comes and goes in unpredictable patterns. Some days I wake up wildly enthusiastic about another day with family, making the house nicer, and getting in a bit of real work around things. Other days, it feels like the apocalypse and I barely function.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 4

A quick note before we begin. This is my blog, and, obviously, not an official source. It’s very much from a personal perspective. I understand people are dying from COVID-19, and if I’m occasionally lighthearted, it’s not to intended on any level to downplay that. I moved to South Korea on my own 13 years ago, and writing about it was one of the ways I coped with the anxiety that came with the early strain of what turned out to be an incredible adventure, and helped me to process what I was doing. Obviously this won’t turn out to be an incredible adventure, but it is written in the same spirit, one of, essentially, dealing with how things are.

Today this became more than a long weekend stuck at home. I mean, it was always more than a long weekend stuck at home, of course, but not going into work on Monday morning (I logged in remotely at my kitchen table) hammered the point home.

The weekend was weird, too. Right now the official advice is to steer clear of unnecessary social contact, and you can see that in some people’s behaviour, though unfortunately not in others. Packed images from Temple Bar – people who clearly aren’t able to use their own common sense – forced the government to require pubs to close from today.

The initial noises of businesses struggling and individuals unable to make a living are already quite vocal; at the moment we’re personally quite lucky in that we’re able to isolate from it and work from home, but that comes with a social responsibility at times like this that I think it’s important we take on. I will be giving a lot of thought to how as this progresses. Airlines, entertainment and the restaurant industry seem to be the worst hit, and the share markets – a figure I’ve always felt was at best semi-relevant to the lives of most normal people – are crashing hard.

We spent most of the weekend at home, but did venture out to get some air, in the park and at the beach, as well as and walking and jogging around locally. A lot of people seem to have taken up running, perhaps as a form of self-protection against respiratory problems, though I’d imagine it’s also something to do with so many social spaces closed. I’ve been running regularly for months, and I’ve never seen even half the numbers out on the streets that I saw over the weekend. I went long and did my own half marathon around Phoenix Park (see pic), because let’s face it, there’s not much else to do, and it’s not hard to imagine a more stringent lock-in might be around the corner.

The Lee Harveys: Protest Punk.

AS THEIR NAME might suggest, Dublin punks The Lee Harveys – made up of musicians who have been hanging around the Irish punk scene since the early 80s – were originally very much about American political protest songs. An odd niche for a Dublin-based band, perhaps, if one most punks would agree offers fertile ground.

The band are angry, firing off two-minute, politically potent tracks on themes like Israel and Palestine, gun crime and a certain Donald Trump. Their latest EP, due shortly, is entitled ‘Resistance is Not Terrorism’, and – amongst other themes – rounds on Eurovision’s visit to Israel with an ‘alternative Eurovision’ track.

“One of things that I loved about the Dead Kennedy’s was the sense of mischief they had, and that’s what we’re doing here, throwing the cat amongst the pigeons,” guitarist Peter Jones says of the song. “It’s not against the Eurovision, it’s in support of Palestine.”

“We’re not against the Israeli people, we’re against what’s happening over there. I think it’s like holding the Eurovision on the Shankill Road in the middle of the troubles,” Bitzy Fitzgerald explains.

“We have submitted the track to RTE, but we haven’t had a response. I’m not sure we really wanted one. But the whole thing was to make a point about it, really, a bit of subversion and a bit of craic.”

There’s a real punk ethos to the way the Lee Harveys release their music, too, with circumstances seeing the band cram their new ‘EP’ with old classics because they can.

Revival: Glenn Hughes on his Deep Purple Second Wind…

GLENN HUGHES is a legend in rock circles, a curly haired bassist with a distinctive vocal, one of the icons of the genre. Famed for a substantial self-destructive streak in his prime, the man known as ‘the voice’ was a real manic rockstar, once beset with substantial drug problems as he performed with Deep Purple, Trapeze and Black Sabbath through the 70s and 80s.

Hughes was the bassist and vocalist in the Mk II and Mk III versions of his most iconic project, Deep Purple, sharing vocal duties with David Coverdale. Those were troubled times; he’s turned his life around over the last couple of decades, and thrown himself into musical projects, an air of ‘making up for lost time’ about his work.

“I talk to the Sabbath guys all the time, and I get on well with most of the guys from Deep Purple now” he says of his links with his past. “They’re slowing down with the music, but for me you can’t really stop this kind of life, man. I need to keep going.”

“It’s different, though. I’m a bit of a California hippie now. This whole thing is cathartic, brother,” he says. “I almost didn’t make it, but I’m in a really good place. I’m all about the love, the anger has gone. I’m playing to a mix of generations now. To parents bringing their kids to shows, and that’s really special.”

“I got myself straight and I’m determined to stay that way, I’ve changed my view on life totally. I’ll keep going until I drop, because I don’t know how to do anything else.”

“I’ll be playing the tunes from when I was in Deep Purple, the ones we wrote, and the ones I played over those years. You’ll get all the classics, and we’re doing a lot with them. They sound huge live,” he explains.

Review: Green Day @ Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin

THIRTY ONE YEARS into a career that’s taken Green Day from gritty pop-punk scenesters to a far more accessible brand of pop-rock, California’s finest still play Kilmainham with the energy of an act auditioning for their first big break.

An indication of the sands of change came earlier in the day, however, as frontman Billie Joe Armstrong spent the morning searching for the quayside venue where the three-piece first played Dublin way back in 1991, only to find it’s now a Starbucks.

While time has certainly changed Green Day, too, all evidence is it hasn’t dulled them one iota. Armstrong’s brutally energetic, interactive fronting of the band is the kind of cheese-fest that sometimes falls the wrong side of cringe – particularly in his habit of espousing his band’s ethos on stage as a list of mundane inclusivity catchphrases – yet is utterly absorbing.

The balance here is strong, too. After opening with three new-ish songs (the very first of which features an audience member on stage draped in an Irish flag), there’s a comforting depth of the back catalogue to be trawling for the older fans. The likes of ‘Longview’, ‘She’, ‘When I Come Around’ and ludicrously glorious cross-dressing anthem ‘King For A Day’ are delivered at near album quality, and with just enough snarl around the edges.

The continued presence of lots of essential albums ‘Nimrod’ and ‘Dookie’, served up together with the best of ‘American Idiot’ and even a dabble in the uninspiring ‘Warning’ on the setlist is the act of a band aiming to please. Newer material is so thin on the ground here it could almost be a career retrospective, a crowd-pleaser that lasts 25 tracks and two and a half hours.

The highlights are acoustic closer ‘Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’, huge fireballs across the back of the stage during peaky choruses, a lengthy pre-gig audience sing-along to Queen (plus a pink rabbit ‘giving birth’ to giveaway soft toys), and an entire track played on guitar by a young audience member who was then handed the instrument to take home. For all the oohs, ahs and hand waving, it’s utterly engaging.

Harsher critics will say modern Green Day is pop-punk by numbers, and there’s an element of truth there: Armstrong, Dirnt and Cool are very much fire-shooting, stadium-loving rays of sunshine these days, doing little more controversial than singing about masturbation and venting against Trump while throwing in the odd Operation Ivy cover on the process.

That the show lacks edge, truthfully, only matters if you’re holding Green Day true to their 90s roots. What they do offer is one of the music scene’s better doses of nostalgic familiarity, packaged in one of the liveliest, most memorable stage shows going; more ‘Having A Blast’ than ‘Burnout’.

As published in the Dublin Gazette, July 6 edition. Reproduced here with permission.

Sorcha Furlong: “I’ve gained a greater understanding from coaching the under-21s. It can be quite a narrow view when you’re playing.”

Dublin GAA logo

This article is part of a series of feature interviews prepared for the Dublin Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association ahead of their All Ireland 2016 final with Cork.

For Sorcha Furlong, one of the most experienced players on Dublin ladies 2016 senior panel, this season has been very much about change – changes in roles, changes in her position and changes in her approach to the game.

One of an ever-dwindling number of survivors from the county’s only All Ireland win in 2010, Furlong gave serious consideration to her role before the season started this time around, before deciding to sit out the league stages of the season, and take on an eight-week coaching role at the county’s under-21 side ahead of their All Ireland tournament instead.

With the under-21s going on to win an All Ireland, Furlong’s decision was not only a success, but had the benefits of a change of pace, helped forge still stronger connections with the senior team’s management and gave her a break at the relatively blunt end of the season. An added bonus came in the make-up of the under-21 side, many of whom are also involved in current senior panel, allowing Furlong to firm up her own senior relationships.

“I really enjoyed the change,” Furlong said of the experience. “It’s great to see the younger players come through, and a lot of them have a role on the senior panel now. I could see what it’s like on the sidelines, which has given me a greater understanding of what’s going on the pitch. It can be quite a narrow view when you’re playing.”

“It helps a good deal in terms of relating to Greg [McGonigle, Dublin senior manager] and Bobby [McNulty, the first team coach and selector],” Furlong added. “I was trying to avoid doing things for the sake of it, because I’ve been doing this a while now. I want to do what counts.”

“I told Greg I wasn’t keen on a full season,” Furlong said of the decision, made shortly after the final last year, “but I kept training myself, I kept going with the fitness work.”

Furlong, in fact, has been playing at various age-groups in the Dublin set up since around 2003/2004, which means her county involvement is now approaching half of her life. Outside of the sport, she’s a P.E teacher, though despite her school having a football program, she prefers to take a step away, and is currently involved mainly in teaching volleyball.

24 square feet of nothingness

The heart doesn’t thump. It’s more like pum-POOM, falling at intervals of just over a second, and accompanied by the barely audible pressure of blood forcing its way into a ventricle. In here, it seems to beat at the volume of human speech, though it’s dramatically overpowered by the slight creek of a gentle raise of the arm in the darkness. My surroundings are such an empty nothingness that I can only tell for certain whether my eyes are open or closed by poking at the eyeball. Occasionally, without warning, an anatomical extremity collides with the invisible walls surrounding my half-naked body. It’s the gentlest of collisions, but its unpredictability sends a tsunami of shockwaves through the darkness, bouncing my floating body back into a seemingly static yet endlessly unstable state of suspension.

About 45 minutes pass, and I turn on the light switch. I’m floating in a salty bath in the blindingly dark confines of what’s essentially a blacked out, nicely heated paddling pool. It’s intimidating at first, yet the kind of blackness that descends when the lights flicker out – fused with the deathly silence aided by ear plugs and the gentle two-tone beat of the heart – quickly evaporates any concept of time. Soon afterwards, the head begins to swirl with entirely un-stimulated randomness, spinning between complete consciousness and a day-dream state. After five minutes, virtual to-do lists and ‘thinking time’ are exhausted and overwhelmed. Sheer serenity, empty space and stress relief kick in: I’m floating in a carbon fibre tub in a central Dublin basement, but I could be anywhere, or equally, nowhere.

Farewell Hideaway House

The end of an era in the Dublin DIY gig scene

“Yesterday I went in to tell my elderly next door neighbour that I’d be having another gig in the house. She asked me if I needed any chairs.”

Four years after he first opened up an unassuming Dublin semi to nights of DIY gig madness, The Hideaway House’s 20-year-old promoter Dylan Haskins is calling it quits and moving on. AU went along to the last ever gig – the line-up a tantalising secret – for a chat with Dylan, and to savour the place before it’s gone forever.

When AU rocks up outside a shabby suburban semi in Blackrock, South Dublin , there’s already a festival-like, summer sunshine vibe doing the rounds. Spiky-haired punks and flowery hippies drift about sharing nods and winks, whispering about possibilities for tonight’s secret line-up and sharing information on just how to track down a venue that’s something of a Dublin urban myth. It’s a Monday night, we’re 40 minutes from the Liffey and we have no idea who we’ve come out to see. This, according to founder Dylan Haskin, is life. “When you’re involved in a music scene for long enough, you experience these rare moments of raw passion and get this feeling, an affirmation that this is what it’s all about”. Welcome to The Hideaway House.